Pitt snaps ACC skid behind Trey McGowens' freshman-record 33 points
Before the start of overtime Wednesday night, Jeff Capel looked into his players’ eyes, and he didn’t like what he saw.
“The guys were dejected. You could see that,” Pitt’s coach said. “I jumped on them (telling them), ‘We’re going to win. We have to fight for five more minutes.’ ”
And so they did.
After Louisville recovered from a 16-point deficit early in the second half to force a 79-79 tie at the end of regulation, Pitt responded to what Capel called a “gut punch” and defeated the Cardinals, 89-86, before a crowd of 6,290 at Petersen Events Center.
The victory was the first for Pitt (11-4, 1-1) against Louisville (10-5, 1-1) since 2010.
“Wow,” Capel said when informed of that fact after the game. “I didn’t know that.”
It also was Pitt’s first regular-season victory in the ACC since February 2017, a span of 22 consecutive defeats.
Pitt finally nailed down the win when Trey McGowens, who set a Pitt freshman record with 33 points, grabbed a rebound with the score tied at 86, drove fearlessly into the lane and scored on a layup to give Pitt a lead it never surrendered.
McGowens, who said he played through pain and “on adrenaline” after his knees collided with another player in the first half, took over the game at various points. Coming in averaging 12.4 points, he hit 12 of 19 shots from the floor, including a season-high four 3-pointers. He added a team-high six rebounds and also played point guard for a time when Xavier Johnson went to the bench in the first half with foul trouble.
“My teammates believe in me. My coach believes in me,” McGowens said.
At one point in the first half, McGowens scored 10 unanswered points to help Pitt build a 38-28 halftime lead.
Sophomore center Terrell Brown smiled slightly when asked to recall what Capel said in that pre-overtime huddle.
“He saw our faces and saw that look in us that we didn’t know what was going to happen,” Brown said. “He told us to keep a strong face and be confident, and we did.
“We ain’t fighting for a whole 40 minutes to come up short. Are we going to roll over and give up, or are we going to fight?
In overtime, Louisville’s Ryan McMahon hit a 3-pointer to break the tie, but Johnson, who had 21 points, 10 assists and five rebounds, followed with a 3 of his own.
“You just relax,” Johnson said. “I knew something was going to happen. I shot the ball, and it went through the hoop.”
Pitt played most of overtime without centers Kene Chukwuka and Brown, who fouled out. Brown scored 11 points and blocked five shots, and Chukwuka scored only four points, but two came in overtime.
Earlier, Louisville climbed back into the game by shooting 67.9 percent in the second half (19 of 28) and scoring 51 points in 20 minutes. But coach Chris Mack acted like he hardly noticed his team’s comeback effort.
“I’m too focused on the other 36 minutes when we were terrible,” he said. “Our defense was deplorable. Until our team plays with a little more dirt under its fingernails, instead of playing the way we did tonight defensively, then we’ll get more (butt)-kickings in this league.”
McGowens, who broke a Pitt freshman record set by Clyde Vaughn in 1980, said he promised his teammates when he arrived on campus this summer the ACC drought would end this season.
“We’re here. We’re going to work. It’s not going to happen again,” he said.
Next up for Pitt is a trip to N.C. State on Saturday. With that mind, Brown tried to put the night in perspective.
“There was a lot of excitement (after the game),” he said, “but then I realized it was only one game. I’m going to enjoy it now. I’m going to go to sleep and wake up and then I’m going to get ready for N.C. State.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at email@example.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.